Where Are They Now?

Flash back to the ‘90s to catch up with past AVAs winners. Six Salon of the Year and Nail Technician of the Year Award recipients share their professional and personal triumphs since winning.

Back in 1994, NAILS created the Salon of the Year Awards to recognize outstanding salons and nail technicians who are serious about their careers and improving the nail and salon industry. Then, in 2001, the name was changed to the Artists & Visionaries Awards (AVAs) to encompass a broader focus, allowing for more entries, which meant more winners.

With this year’s AVAs fast approaching, we took a trip down memory lane to find out what some previous winners are up to and the benefits that followed upon winning their awards.

Michelle Yaksich, Spa at Nail Galleria, Pittsburgh, 1994 and 1996 Salon of the Year

<p>Michelle Yaksich (right) and her former partner Terri DeCort in 1994</p>What did winning the 1994 and 1996 Salon of the Year Awards mean to you?

YAKSICH: I have a lot of respect for NAILS Magazine and I learned a lot about doing nails through the magazine. Winning the award validated everything I worked for and my success, and it’s a nice feather in my cap. We were shocked to win the second time. I felt our business grew stronger because of it. We had entered the competition again because we moved to a bigger location.

Did anything change after you won?

YAKSICH: We received a lot of local media attention. It really helped boost our business and helped give our industry credibility

<p>Michelle Yaksich (right) with her sister Denise</p>What has changed in your professional life since we last profiled you?

YAKSICH: My former business partner, Terri DeCort, and I originally opened Nail Galleria in 1992. In 1997, we moved into what is now called the Omni William Penn Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh. A couple of years ago, Terri had twins so she sold her half of the business to me. Now my sister, Denise Konesky, is my business partner. We recently renovated and added facial and massage rooms. The original space was 2,200 sq. ft. and now it’s 3,500 sq. ft.

What has changed in the industry since winning your awards?

YAKSICH: Nobody knew about nail salons back then.

<p>Nancy Lawrence accepting her award in 1999</p>Nancy Lawrence, Savoir-Faire, Auburn, Calif., 1999 Salon of the Year

What did winning the Salon of the Year Award mean to you?

LAWRENCE: When I initially applied, I thought just entering the competition would show our clients that we take our business very seriously, we believe in ourselves, and we go the extra mile to do our best. When we won, it was one of the greatest moments of my life! It was so very exciting and rewarding.

Did anything change after you won?

LAWRENCE: Yes. We put copies of the issue that showed as receiving our award at each workstation and on in the magazine rack. Eventually, the news spread and our business increased a great deal from the publicity. I also sent press releases with photos to our local newspapers and magazines. And I still use the title, “Award-Winning Salon,” on our answering machine, advertisements, and salon menus. Also, since winning the award, it is much easier to find new nail technicians.

What has changed in your professional and personal life since we last profiled you?

<p>Nancy's new look</p>LAWRENCE: Since winning the award, I started competing. Actually I’ve only competed twice, but it is so much fun that now I’m determined to be the best. I was a little embarrassed by some low scores, but this makes me want to do better. On a side not, I recently applied to be a cast member for the upcoming reality show “Top Hair” on Bravo.

On a personal level, I’ve been through some major changes over the years. I had gastric bypass surgery three years ago and I’ve lost 164 pounds. It feels so good to move! Then last year, I suffered with a serious health problem and also lost two friends who were relatively young. I truly believe that we need to live each day as if it is our last.

What has changed in the industry since winning your award?

LAWRENCE: One of the biggest changes is the abundance of discount salons. They have found their niche and have worked it well. They’ve taken some business from our salon, but I fully believe in free enterprise. In fact, the owner of our center recently told me that a discount nail salon is interested in renting a space and I told him I thought it would be a great idea. Discount nail salons create a lot of foot traffic and I’d rather have it at our center than the new one that’s opening nearby.

Cathy Neben, Hair Spa, Houston, 
1998 Salon of the Year

What did winning the Salon of the Year Award mean to you?

NEBEN: My winning words were, “A vote for Hair Spa is a vote for the consumer,” I was excited and thrilled because our commitment to educating our clients and ourselves about salon safety was being recognized by the nail industry on a national level. My degrees are in biology and social work. It was my interest in the pseudomonas bacteria and the role it can play in nail services that led me to the salon industry. So winning the Salon of the Year Award was especially meaningful to me.

Did anything change after you won?

<p>Cathy Neben and daughter Susanna</p>NEBEN: I did more public speaking about consumer safety in nail salons. In May 2004, my husband, Michael Neben, M.D., and I were asked to send written testimony to the Sunset Commission about the Texas Cosmetology Commission (TCC) when they were deciding if and how to reorganize the TCC to provide a more effective, safe way to run salons in Texas.

What advice do you have for future AVAs entrants?

NEBEN: Find your passion and focus in the industry, whether it’s safety issues, natural nail care, acrylics, nail art, etc., and let that show in your entry. I recommend you make copies of your entry to display at your salon. It’s a great way to share your passion with clients.

What has changed in your professional life since we last profiled you?

NEBEN: We just updated our look. Since my daughter is now in high school, I wanted to create a contemporary salon design for her, her friends, and our college customers. Our sorority and fraternity store, JoeToga, is connected to Hair Spa, making our salon a total of 4,000 sq. feet. According to new Texas regulations, we also added an autoclave and post a record of our pedi spa sanitation.

<p>Nail techs Alice and Sue, and the new mural</p>

What do you know now about the nail industry that you didn’t know then?

NEBEN: That salon professionals are open to change through examining research as it becomes available, and they are willing to come together and put the consumer first. Because of this change, media exposure about unsanitary salon practices has lessened.

Shari Finger, Finger’s Nail Studio, W. Dundee, III., 1997 Salon of the Year, 1997 Nail Technician of the Year

What did winning the Salon of the Year Award mean to you?

FINGER: I put together my entry as a tribute to my staff. We had strong acrylic artist who would bring home multiple trophies at every competition. I also had a wonderful technician who painted such mind-blowing nail art. What made this staff unique was their ability to stay focused and committed to our salon’s goals, policies, and professionalism.

<p>Shari Finger in 1998</p>What does it mean to you now?

FINGER: A decade later we are still pushing forward and offering our customers cutting-edge nails and impeccable customer service that is hard to find in today’s world of discount salons. We still wear our “Salon of the Year” title proudly!

Did anything change after you won?

FINGER: It did change things, and it still does. The title, “Finger’s Award-Winning Salon,” is printed on our salon materials. We tell them we won NAILS Magazine’s Salon of the Year and that salons all over the country were considered! In my little town this is big news.

What did winning the Nail Technician of the Year Award mean to you?

FINGER: Wow, it was such an honor! I’m a self-taught nail technician because 20 years ago when I started, there weren’t any nail schools to teach you. I set my own standards and pushed and practiced until I was the best I could be. I am one of the little guys just like many other nail technicians out there, and I won.

Did anything change after you won?

FINGER: I’ve started a program called Nail University, which is an advance educational program for licensed nail technicians. The title, ”Nail technician of the Year,” has given me credibility that students, employees, and customers look for when choosing a salon or school.

What has changed in your personal life since we last profiled you?

FINGER: Unfortunately, I hit a bump in the road. On the morning of June 3, 2005, I woke up without any feeling in my legs. The doctors found a lesion in my cervical spine at C3-C4, and on July 7, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I had no idea what my future was going to be like, and my biggest concern was whether I could ever do nails again. My doctors didn’t know if I would regain all my normal skills. I spent the entire summer trying to do nails. My best friend and salon manager, Kristi, brought me a coloring book and crayons and I started off coloring like a 4-year old. I started improving very slowly. Now, I’m back to work full days with a booked schedule. After painting an intricate nail art design recently, I was told I’m not just back, but even better than before.

<p>Debbie Scoaff (left in 1994) and now.&nbsp;</p>

Debra Shoaff, The Nail & Hair Gallery, Wampum, Pa., 1994 Salon of the Year, 1996 Nail Technician of the Year

What did winning the salon of the Year Award mean to you?

SHOAFF: It is an honor that I will never forget. When I opened my home-based salon in 1991, my biggest fear was not being considered professional because my salon was in my home. I had to prove to myself that doing nails and hair wasn’t a hobby – it was a profession no matter where the location.

And what about the Nail Technician of the Year Award?

SHOAFF: Being recognized for my contribution to the growth of the nail industry was overwhelming. When I started my career in 1976, it was unfashionable to be a manicurist. In the Northeast, manicures were considered add-on services and nail extensive were unheard of.

<p>The Nail &amp; Hair Gallery's pedicure area</p>

Did anything change after you won?

SHOAFF: The award was the driving force to grow my business and share my knowledge with my salon team and other salon professionals. After winning, I advertised my award and then my business sky-rocketed. It not only increased my income, but the income of the salon staff as well. Credibility always gets clients.

Also, back then, methyl methacrylate (MMA) was being used in Pennsylvania and I took an aggressive approach to get the state board to ban the use of this harmful product.

What advice do you have for future AVAs entrants?

SHOAFF: This competition will help define you personally and professionally. Take the time to reflect on your career, focus on your strengths, and work on your weaknesses. You will be amazed at how it will enrich your life and the people around you.

What has changed in your professional life since we last profiled you?

SHOAFF: I have recently expanded my business to include a day spa. I have added a massage room, a facial room, and a pipeless pedicure station.

LaShaun Brown-Glenn, Nails Naturally, Chicago, 1999 Nail Technician of the Year

<p>Brown-Glenn (second from left) accepting her award in 1999</p>What did winning the Nail Technician of the Year Award mean to you?

BROWN-GLENN: It was an exciting time and an honor. Our industry has many nail professionals who are doing great things to make a difference. To be chosen to represent nail technicians everywhere was an incredible feeling, I think it was [executive editor] Hannah Lee who said to me, “It is like being Miss America. You will always have the title and the recognition.”

What does it mean to you now?

BROWN-GLENN: I’m always aware of my decisions and actions in the industry because I still feel it’s important to lead by example.

Did anything change after you won?

<p>LaShaun Brown-Glenn getting a pedicure for a NAILS "On the Road" article</p>BROWN-GLENN: My aspirations became a lot greater. It’s still important for me to be an inspiration to other nail professionals. To this day, I still get calls from nail technicians asking for advice and I make the time to speak with them and offer my support?

What advice do you have for future AVAs entrants?

BROWN-GLENN: Know what you are going to do with this honor and how you can use it to not only make a difference in your life, but in the life of others.

What has changed in your salon/professional life since we last profiled you?

BROWN-GLENN: For my 15-year anniversary in business, I completely redesigned my salon inside and out. I also recently joined the Entity Beauty family as one of their regional sales directors after 10 ½ years with Creative Nail Design/

In 2005, I co-authored a book called, “Conversations on Success,” with John Gray, Ph.D., who wrote Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. I also founded Speaking on Point, a speaking/consulting business to provide salon professional with the tools they need to raise their level of professionalism. I’ve been doing a lot of print work for photographers and corporations, including Wrigley.

What do you know now about the nail industry that you didn’t know then?

BROWN-GLENN: Just more of what I already knew to be true. Knowledge is power! No matter how good you are or who you are, you must be committed to learning and growing with the industry. Our industry is ever-changing and you have to be willing to change with it.


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